February 22


Across the Water: Feeding Readers Wherever They Are by Valerie Stein

This is my second school year retired from the position I held for many years running the PreK-8 library at a small independent school north of Seattle, Washington. I still sub there, and visit for special events. It’s been home to me for more than half my teaching career, and I feel great pride in the legacy of service and love of reading I left behind.


Working alone in my home as a writer and publisher these days, there is one thing I miss desperately, and that’s putting books into the hands of readers. I miss the interchange over a book, the excitement of celebrating new releases, of reading a picture book aloud to a group of youngsters for the first time, and perfecting the timing so that we all get even more from it the fifth or sixth time. I miss that moment when a book goes from being my find, or theirs, to being “our book,” a shared experience.


I still share with kid lit and library folks on social media, and of course I’m thrilled that my grown daughter, who is a school library tech and book lover herself, continues to exchange favorites with me. These things, while wonderful, are not quite the same as feeding all those young readers in person each week.


This brings me to my most recent experience with doing just that, in a way I wouldn’t have imagined. I won’t likely meet this particular reader in person, but all the same, I feel connected with her, even across an ocean.


My nephew, a fellow with whom I have also shared my love of reading, recently spent a couple of months with a family in Russia. He sent me an interesting request, from one reader to another. The teenage girl in his host family, he said, was looking for a particular edition of a book. It was to be a limited release, only published in four countries. The author had released a free PDF version of the book in Russian, but she wanted to hold the real live English one in her hands, and very much wanted to support the author through its purchase.


Of course I called my favorite local Indie bookseller, but just as in all the many searches we did to find out more, she could locate only the first edition available. I wrote my nephew back, asking for more details, and aha. The book was only being sold in select storefronts of the big retail bookseller we all know. It was released in the US two days before Black Friday. Madness. I don’t do Black Friday, and this year I’m caring for a family member, so had even less desire or opportunity to venture out, but my husband and I, captured by this young woman’s story of determination, both very much wanted to make this particular piece of book magic happen.


I called around and finally found it. When I sent a note to the nephew as we shared blow by blow plays through time zones, this was his response: Thank you so much! When I showed her your message, … it produced that famous excited 15 year old girl squeal that lasted for some time. *laughs* But that’s a good thing. That was the final inspiration, and my husband braved the windy rainy Black Friday mall traffic on his day off and snagged it, because though he’s not quite as crazy for books as I am, he’s that cool.


A few days later, a package left for a small city in Russia, with an autographed copy of the book I had never heard of two weeks before, and a note from me, the book lover. I haven’t read it, because as I told her in my note, she needed to be the first to read its pages. I’ve held it in my hands, and read quite a lot about it since, though. I cheered when it won a Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award the day after we procured it. And now, it almost feels as if it’s “our” book.


Last week, I got another message from my nephew: Good morning! I didn’t want to text too early, but I got a string of very excited texts…from a very happy Russian girl. Thanks for finding and sending that book!


Across the water, or across the street, reaching young readers will always be important to me. This connection captured my heart, and though I will likely never get to see Masha’s face light up over a book, in my imagination I can feel the glow.


Valerie Stein is a retired Library Media Specialist from Washington State. She is the publisher at Homeostasis Press, and shares historical stuff on Gatherings, the blog at Gather Here: History for Young People a Pacific Northwest history site for kids and teachers she’s building with a team of middle grade authors. She also helps out at From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. When she’s not writing, she can often be found with her nose in a book, or listening to one with her ears. She tweets @stein_valerie.